What is Elder Abuse?

Seniors are a population that are vulnerable to abuse of many kinds. Part of this vulnerability has to do with society’s reluctance to listen to older people. Their complaints can be dismissed as confusion or dementia. Seniors may have disabilities and need to rely on caregivers to help them manage their life. This power imbalance can lead to abuse

Abuse of elderly persons includes any act or omission which jeopardizes or results in harm to the health or welfare of an older individual. It is part of an ongoing pattern of power and control by someone with whom there is a trusting relationship. This type of abuse occurs in all socio-economic, religious, geographic and cultural backgrounds.

Those who abuse may be spouses, adult children, professional caregivers or friends. They may be dependent on the victim through alcoholism, drug dependency, psychological problems and/or unemployment. Sometimes, abuse can be the end result of the caregiver being stressed-out.

Examples of elder abuse include:

  • Administering a medication change without individual’s consent
  • Overmedicating
  • Denying one’s basic physical needs
  • Invading privacy
  • Not respecting rights to confidentiality
  • Keeping someone confined or isolated
  • Fraudulently gaining access to finances or assets. E.g. sales and credit card fraud
  • Mismanaging funds; using another’s money in ways to which they have not consented.
  • Non-consensual sexual activity
  • Ridicule, harassment, verbal abuse

Be aware that as with other forms of abuse, the pressure on the victim often escalates when they seek to make change through disclosure or attempts to get help.

If you think you are experiencing elder abuse

  • Because elder abuse isn’t readily talked about or acknowledged it often difficult to know how to speak about it or to whom. You may want to consider talking to a person you trust who you think will be supportive and believe you. This might be a family member, chaplain, pastor, spiritual care staff, nurse, health-care aid.
  • If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
  • Most provinces in Canada have organizations and/or crisis lines specifically geared to support those who are experiencing elder abuse. Both of the following links below provide phone numbers and resources by province.
  • Provincial resources on elder abuse
  • CNPEA – Find Help
  • This guide is an excellent resources that explains in more detail the dynamics of elder abuse and how to get help.

Is there a legal duty to report elder abuse?

Obligation to report depends on multiple factors:

  • Vulnerability of adult – If the elderly individual understands what is happening to them and is cognitively able to make decisions, the choice to report or take action is up to them. To take away this control is another violation of the person’s dignity and right to self-agency. Rather offer your support and provide options they could pursue if they so desire.
  • Risk of ongoing harm: – Another consideration is whether the individual is at risk of continual harm. Again, whenever able, it is crucial to allow an elderly adult to make decisions about the safety and health of their own lives. When a person lives with cognitive or physical barriers that impair informed decision-making, it is wise to educate the individual and empower them to choose how they want to proceed. However, when decision-making capacities are not present and the person is at risk of continual harm, it would be imperative to report the
  • Province or territory you live in: Provinces and territories have unique legislation around duty to report elder abuse. Click here for info.
  • Caregiving facility: Most personal care home facilities have policy around the treatment and welfare of elderly residents that should include guidelines around duty to report.

Further Resources

Elder Abuse is Wrong

Provincial services and crisis lines

Canadian Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

A Practical Guide to Elder Abuse and Neglect Law in Canada

Close to Home: Dealing with Elder Abuse

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